After marked drop in preschooler obesity rate, a look at the changing obesity landscape for kids

By Leanne Italie

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26 2014 3:07 p.m. MST

Consumption of carbonated soft drinks has been in decline in the U.S. since 2005, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of the news and data service Beverage Digest. It has decreased from 10.2 billion cases a year to 9.2 billion.

In 2004, the average American drank 52.4 gallons of carbonated soft drinks a year. In 2012, that was down to 43.8 gallons. Consumption of bottled water has grown consistently over that period.

Between 1999 and 2010, daily calories from soda consumed by 2- to 5-year-olds decreased on average from 106 to 69, according to the government.

FAST FOOD

McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and other chains have changed their menus in recent years. They haven't stopped serving Big Macs and french fries, but they are offering more foods to appeal to health-conscious diners, such as apple slices in Happy Meals, egg whites for breakfast sandwiches and whole-grain bread.

GOVERNMENT BENEFITS

Changes in the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food vouchers for the poor, may also be encouraging healthier eating. The changes — instituted in 2009 — eliminated juice from infant food packages, provided less saturated fat and made it easier to buy fruits and vegetables.

BREAST-FEEDING

Women are breast-feeding their babies longer, according to government figures. And some researchers believe breast-feeding helps children regulate their intake of food, thereby lowering their risk of obesity later on.

Of infants born in 2010, 49 percent were breast-feeding at 6 months, up from 35 percent in 2000. The breast-feeding rate at 12 months increased from 16 percent to 27 percent during that time period.

Judy Dodd, a University of Pittsburgh assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics, said government programs and other services have encouraged breast-feeding by providing free or low-cost breast pumps, access to refrigeration and more offices with private, comfortable rooms where new moms can pump on the job.

"When a woman goes back to work, how does she continue to breast-feed? That's the biggest challenge I'm hearing, and there have been improvements," Dodd said.

ACCESS TO FRESH FOOD

A number of programs are giving people in poor neighborhoods more access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables.

For example, the Sproutin' Up program in Fort Collins, Colo., provided 2,500 pounds of locally grown produce for free to poor families last summer and will be back this year. Kids help grow the produce and run the farmers markets, telling their neighbors, "You have to try these! We grew these!"

"Everything is delicious, and there is a lot of variety," Marina Lopez, whose 11-year-old son Victor helps out with the program, said in Spanish through a translator, mentioning carrots, cucumbers and squash. "It's very important for parents to get involved with nutrition for their families."

AP writers Candice Choi, Beth Harpaz, Mike Stobbe and Ricardo Reif contributed to this report.

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